Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Northwestern University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Literature, Northwestern University
Baubo. The Greeks and the Obscene

I am applying to the International Dissertation Research Fellowship to conduct research in the holdings and archives of the National Museums in Berlin. This research will form the foundation for my dissertation on the ancient context and modern reception of the so-called Baubo statuettes, a group of Hellenistic figurines discovered by German archaeologists in Priene, modern-day Turkey, in 1898. The eight statuettes adhere to a consistent and distinctive iconographic form: Baubo's head is placed directly onto her legs and, lacking a torso, the chin and vagina of the female figure merge into one another. Interpretations of Baubo still rely heavily on an initial publication from 1904. There has, for example, been no new photographs or investigations of the statuettes. Problematically, interpretations have tended to reproduce the impressions and biases of this early publication. To-date, the statuettes still tend to be described as 'obscene,' 'grotesque,' and 'sexual,' without addressing whether these terms have any applicability to the figurines in their original contexts, or if they are instead modern reactions to them. My dissertation reconstructs the ancient context of the statuettes, and examines how the circumstances of their discovery shaped, and continue to shape, their interpretation. The Baubo statuettes arrived in Berlin at a time when reorganization of the museums, reforms of the universities and schools, and increased German archaeological activity collectively changed approaches to antique material. Indeed, the very definition 'Ancient Greece,' which since the early nineteenth century had been a foil for German national identity, was changing during this period. Baubo, with her eastern provenance and odd iconography, stood at the center of debates about which historic periods, geographical regions, and categories of artifacts should be prioritized, in fact counted as, Ancient Greece.